Monday, June 27, 2016

Alexander the Great in Bible prophecy

This is a continuation of my post on examples of fulfilled non-Messianic prophecies.

In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the citadel, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal. I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath. I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven (Dan 8:1-8). 
“And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these (Dan 11:2-4).

Now I'll quote two liberal commentators on these Danielic passages:

[Dan 8:5-8] The imperial leadership more powerful than that of Persia will be Alexander's…The description of Alexander's flying advance recalls that of Cyrus in Isa 41:3 and the winged leopard in Dan 7:6 (cf. 1 Macc 1:1-4). Over a period of four years between 344 and 331 BC, Alexander quite demolished the Persian empire and established an empire of his own extending from Europe to India. On the breakup of his empire, see 11:4. J. Goldingay, Daniel (Word, 1989), 209.  
[Dan 11:3-4] "Then a warrior king…will rule a great realm." Alexander the Great came to the throne of Macedon in 336 BC; he invaded and conquered the territory from Turkey to India and thus came to rule the largest empire the world had yet known. "But as soon as he arises, his empire will break up…": Alexander reigned over this empire for less than a decade. He died of fever in 332 BC and his empire shattered. Ibid. 295. 
[Dan 8:5] a he-goat came from the west: Jerome and the Peshitta take the goat as Alexander, but it is clear from vv 8 and 21 that he is not the goat but the great horn. 
a conspicuous horn: The singularity of the horn [i.e. unicorn] reflects the singular importance of Alexander the Great. 
[Dan 8:8] The great horn was broken: The transparent reference to the death of Alexander has been recognized from Josephus on.
Four grew in its place: These are Alexander's generals who succeeded him, the Diadochi,: Ptolemy Lagus, Philip Aridaeus, Antigonus, and Seleucus Nicanor. J. Collins, Daniel (Fortress, 1993), 331. 
[Dan 11:2b] The "stirring up" refers rather to the campaign of Alexander. 
[Dan 11:3] A warrior king will arise: This figure represents Alexander.  
[Dan 11:4] his kingdom will be broken: Alexander's sudden death is also recorded in Dan 8:8. Ibid. 377. 

These are from the two standard commentaries on Daniel by liberal scholars. Both commentators identify Alexander the Great as a figure alluded to in Daniel's oracles. Conservative commentators share that identification. My preliminary point is that you don't have to be a conservative Christian to think Daniel is talking about Alexander the Great in these passages. 

If the oracles of Daniel were written down before the rise of Alexander, that would mean Daniel accurately forecast his career and demise. But that's naturally impossible. Alexander was an exceptional figure. And the geographical pattern of his conquests was fortuitous. Such historical contingencies are naturally unpredictable. 

Ironically, liberals scholars take the very accuracy of the descriptions to mean they were written subsequent to the events in question. "Prophecy" after the fact. History written in the guise of prophecy.

However, that explanation runs into obstacles with the history of reception. Let's quote a few scholars who illustrate the problem of a Maccabean date given the reception history of Daniel:

The book of Daniel was accepted as canonical by the community of Qumran (who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls). This is telling because this group emerged as a separate party in Judaism between 171 and 167 BC, before the proposed late date. They would not have accepted the book if it had appeared after the split. I. Duguid, “Daniel”, ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 1581-1582. 
Daniel is not an apocalypse of Essene origin. How, then, can its enormous influence on the Essenes be explained, and their acceptance of it as canonical, unless it had been known before Maccabean times? The Essenes seem to have dated their own definite emergence as a party between 171 and 167 BC, and any apocalypse produced from then on, if it had not come from the Essenes, would have come from their rivals, and would therefore not have secured Essene acceptance. R. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Eerdmans, 1986), 415n75. 
One of the eight manuscripts of Daniel from Qumran, 4QDan, is among the oldest biblical manuscripts discovered there, and is commonly dated to 120-115 BC. Cross who assumes the standard critical dating for Daniel, states that this copy of Daniel is "no more than about a half century younger than the autograph. This would mean that this manuscript is a copy of Daniel produced no later than about 115 BC.  
There can be no doubt that Daniel was considered a genuine prophetic book by the Qumran sectarians…To account for the widespread evidence for the acceptance of Daniel as canonical, the supposition that Daniel was only composed in about 165 BC would require it to have gained very rapid acceptance as a genuine prophecy by virtually all known Jewish sects in the late Hellenistic and early Herodian periods. The probability of this rapid and widespread acceptance of a recent composition is extremely remote. It is made even more remote by the fact that critical scholars often claim that the end of Dan 11 and the end of Dan 12 were attempts at genuine prophecy by the author of Daniel, but they proved to be inaccurate. If they were recent and inaccurate (false) prophecies, it is almost impossible to imagine that there has survived no record of controversy among Jewish sects about the prophets status of Daniel. Surely some would have objected that Daniel was a false prophet (cf. Deut 18:20-22 and that the book was only a recent work and a forgery attributed to a much earlier figure from the Babylonian and Persian periods. A. Steinmann, Daniel (Concordia, 2008 ), 17-18.
Finally, we may look at that section of the book which more than all others raises the question of its dating. It is the majority view that the long, detailed prophecy of chapters 10-12 must be, and is, largely a vaticinium ex eventu. By creating the impression that all these historical events, which his readers would know had actually taken place, had in fact been predicted in detail and fulfilled inexorably to the letter, the author aimed, on this view, to produce in his readers overwhelming confidence in his few, but major, real predictions. These were that Antiochus would make a third invasion of Egypt, this time very successfully, but that on his return journey he would suddenly meet his end, when encamped between Jerusalem and the sea; that there would then follow a time of unprecedented trouble for Israel, out of which nonetheless they would be delivered; that then the resurrection of the dead would take place, and thus the End would have arrived; and that all this would take place within a period of about 3 1⁄2 years measured from Antiochus' setting up of the abomination of desolation. But this last event, according to the majority view, must have already taken place before the book was written and published (for had the book been published before that event, the prediction of it would have been a genuine predictive prophecy). How long after the setting up of the abomination of desolation it took our author to compile this book with its remarkably complex structure the majority view does not tell us; nor how long it took to get it published and into circulation. Practical sense suggests that by the time it was written and published, a considerable part of the 3 1⁄2 years must have gone by. The book would now be promising that the End would occur within an even shorter time than 3 1⁄2 years. Fortunately, when the book was published, Daniel's reading public, close-knit though they must have been, never realized who the author was - the publisher never spilt the beans - and took the book for an ancient book without wondering why they had never heard of it before. They believed its vaticinium ex eventu to have been a genuine prophecy, and put their faith in the author's prediction, were very encouraged by it, and prepared to meet the End. Unfortunately, of course, nothing happened. Antiochus did not invade Egypt again. He did not encamp between Jerusalem and the sea. He died, but not there: he died in fact far away out east. There was trouble for Israel as always, but nothing unprecedented. And the resurrection of the dead did not take place. The other things which other chapters in Daniel had promised would happen at the End, did not take place either: all Gentile imperial power was not everywhere removed, and universal dominion was not given to Israel.26 The only thing that took place within the time was the deliverance and cleansing of the sanctuary. Nevertheless the faithful having discovered the predictions to be false were not discouraged. They still accepted the predictions as genuine predictions and the whole book as authoritative; and they carefully preserved it and quoted it (e.g. 1 Macc. 2:60). Later they canonized it. At this point the majority view, based as it is on the alleged incredibility of predictive prophecy, becomes itself so incredible… B. Gooding, "The Literary Structure of the Book of Daniel and Its Implications," TynBul 32 (1981), 73-74.

1 comment:

  1. See here regarding a more recent Daniel commentary by another liberal scholar, endorsed by John Collins as "the first major commentary on Daniel of the twenty-first century". It has the same sort of weaknesses Steve outlines above.